Shad does the American Museum of Natural History

John knows I hate those revolving doors having almost caught my tail in one in the past so when it started rotating I scuttled through with my ears back and my tail tucked between my back paws expecting to make a dignified recovery the other side.  Instead I dropped my ample belly down to the ground and slowly lifted my worried face towards the ceiling until my bright green eyes met the huge empty ocular sockets of a giant.  I crept gradually towards it sniffing eagerly to check if it was friend or foe and decided that it was safe to continue on this weird and wonderful journey through the Museum of Natural History in New York.  And if I thought the guy in the lobby was big, I was soon to face the titanosaur, a 122 foot long 70 ton dinosaur so big it won’t fit into one room so its head pokes through to the next gallery.  Based on a fossil found in Argentina in 2014, titanosaur was the largest creature to ever have walked the earth and I was soon to sit right next it!

 

John and I entered the North American Hall of Mammals and Hall of African Mammals which displays many mammal species preserved forever behind glass and to be honest I wasn’t sure whether to be enthralled or horrified.  I was full of mixed emotions about the educational value of the museum against the frozen faces of my feline cousins looking at me with lifeless eyes.  John told me that during the nineteenth century, the trade in exotic animals was rife and this sadly resulted in hundreds of thousands of animals being taken away from their natural environments and forced to live in unsuitable conditions before meeting unhappy endings.  Yet this macabre practice gave people of science the chance to study animals for scientific advances.  In another paradox, this caused the suffering of many animals used for experimentation but also facilitated a better understanding of the natural world.  I resolved my ethical dichotomy by accepting that the historical collections in the museum represent the best and the worst of humanity and I cannot change the past but only look to improve the future.  I would start by appreciating the beauty of the bears lured to the river by salmon, the course-haired bison roaming the prairies and the glistening beavers busy building their damns.  The gorilla standing before me looked like a ferocious hunter but ironically he is a vegetarian who spends his day feeding on leaves, bark and fruit.

 

In the Hall of Human Origins I met Lucy, a quiet lass, petite and with a few bits missing, but she’s allowed to be what she wants considering she lived in Ethiopia around 3 million years ago and is potentially the oldest ancestor of modern humans.  The Human Origins exhibition tells the story of human-kind through the fossil record and genome science and showed me just how creative and fortunate you humans have been to get this far.  I imagine this would not have been the case if everyone were at the same intellectual level as the Easter Island head who sniggered at me as we made our way through the Polynesian People section.  I reminded him that he was known as the monolithic statue that demanded chewing-gum from Larry the lead character in the movie Night at the Museum and kept calling him Dum-Dum. I suggested that as someone famous for requesting large amounts of gum-gum, he might want to consider giving a better impression to visitors by making himself useful, providing directions or helpful hints about the museum.  He wanted to know why I couldn’t walk on my back legs and why I didn’t have thumbs so I enquired as to whether he was related to Neanderthals and why he was constantly pouting.  I think John got fed up with listening to me arguing with this disproportionatey sized lump of stone and moved on.  I knew he couldn’t wait to check out the mighty tyrannosaurus-rex with its two-fingered forearms and serrated teeth, probably the most famous of dinosaurs.

 

Mounted in a stalking position, head low, tail extended and one foot slightly raised, Rexy and his 6 inch long teeth stood proud in the gallery surrounded by a multitude of bizarre looking relics from the Mesozoic Era that covers the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods up to 245 million years ago.  I was encircled by the skeletons of pterodactyl and other winged reptiles that hung from the ceiling whilst horned, crested and domed skulls stared at me from every angle.  Enough with the monsters, it was time to admire the most colourful and sparkly part of the museum, the Halls of Meteorites, Minerals and Gems.  Imagine my ecstatic face as I swooned over the biggest collection of twinkling things I’ve ever seen in my life, just like Scrat the squirrel who goes to acorn heaven in the movie Ice Age 3 or Dory from Finding Nemo when she’s winning at a game.  There were diamonds, rubies, garnets, quartz, gold, platinum, opal, amber and emeralds in the simplest and most elaborate of forms, from smooth polished egg shapes to jagged gemstones that refracted the light into miniature rainbows.  Some pieces looked like snow-flakes, while others were flat, hexagonal or shaped like a rose.  John liked the Star of India, a mesmerising jewel that is the world’s largest blue-star sapphire.  I rubbed my cheek on the Cape York meteorite, a 34 ton iron mass that collided with the earth some 10,000 years ago.  It was magical!

Shad does the Rockefeller Centre

Sometimes I have to remind John that he is 5’10” tall and I am 9½ inches from toe to back which by my calculations makes him 7 times higher than me, causing things in my world appear 7 times bigger.  It makes sense to me ok!  So when he suggested a trip to the top of the Rockefeller I hope he appreciated just how brave and dare I say heroic I had to be!  Luckily I had inspiration from the Greek legend Prometheus who took the form of a bronze gilded statue in the plaza close to the entrance beside an inscription that read “… Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends …”  On the way up to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck my ears popped which I found alarming but as no one else in the lift (or elevator to use the American term) reacted, I decided to hold my nerve steady and walked resolutely on to the Observation Deck with my tail proudly in the vertical position.  Seventy floors up, the viewing area provides a 360-degree panoramic view of New York City and is the setting for a famous photograph that was taken in 1932 during construction of a group of workers sitting on a steel beam without safety harness eating lunch with an 840 feet drop to the ground below them.

Click on the Image to see a 360 view

Click on the Image to see a 360 view

From that great height the New York skyline comprised endless rows of concrete peaks until I spotted a huge green patch of trees which I discovered was Central Park.  It was a relief to find a morsel of nature amongst all the buildings and lights of Times Square and Broadway so I was delighted when John and I took a stroll along some of the many paths that zigzag across the Park.  There were joggers and cyclists enjoying the fume-free air, twitchers with binoculars bragging about the red-breasted nuthatch they had just seen on a branch, and people with dogs of all shapes and sizes trotting obediently beside them.  Hidden within this woodland wonder was Belvedere Castle, an architectural mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles intended to be a Victorian Folly, with parapet walls and a traditional corner tower topped with a cone-shaped cap.  A beautiful lawn stretched out below and there was a large pond full of turtles swimming casually in the water and sunbathing on the rocks.

Central Park was my favourite park closely followed by Battery Park located at the Southern tip of Manhattan Island.  Due to its strategic location where the Hudson and East Rivers meet, The Battery became an area of military importance where canons and fortifications were erected to defend the city back in the days when the area was first settled by the Dutch.  Now it’s a picturesque waterfront preserved as a green space to promote conservation and biodiversity.  I strongly support this concept although I did object to the wasp that chased me all the way from the Castle Clinton national monument to the bench opposite the wild flowers which thankfully drew its attention.  I thought one of the red squirrels sniggered as I scampered past him but John assured me that it was a cough!  Still I was a little miffed and suggested we head to the 9/11 memorial site which was close by.  There, set within the footprints of the original twin towers, were two mesmerising cascades of water that flowed into the earth surrounded by hundreds of oak trees.   The name of every person who died was etched in bronze around the memorial pools and it was exquisite yet understated, a fitting tribute to the events of that day.

Shad does the New York Harbour Lights Cruise

The lights of the big city at night twinkled like a thousand stars in a velvet sky.  The rumble of the boat engines was loud but monotone and gradually faded into the background.  People perched on stools around the small bar in the middle of the indoor section looking eagerly around and chatting avidly, whilst others huddled together on the seats warming their hands over the heaters.  Outdoors on the deck hardy individuals stood against the freezing wind determined to enjoy the full experience of the Harbour Lights at Night boat trip that John and I booked as part of our long weekend stay in The Big Apple.  I bet you thought I’d be curled up in a cosy corner of the cabin with a warm bowl of cat-friendly milk.  But actually I was one of the troopers shivering outside on the benches as the boat charged down the River Hudson and the chilly air parted my fur and made it all clumpy.

The Statue of Liberty was the first significant sight to behold on our river cruise and by the time we reached it the sun was setting in the West, casting long shadows across the shimmering grey water while the orange horizon gradually transformed to midnight blue.  With her 35 foot waistline, she was an imposing figure standing at 305 feet from the base of the pedestal foundation to the tip of the torch.  But I thought she looked small compared to the plethora of high-rise buildings that sweep across Manhattan Island.  The light green of her robes are the result of natural weathering of the copper that covers the statue and a close look at her feet reveal the symbolic broken shackles of oppression and tyranny.  Her torch is covered with thin sheets of 24carat gold and there are seven rays on her crown, one for each of the continents of the world.

The boat continued chugging South flanking downtown New York as the tour guide whose voice could barely be heard above the roaring engines told us about the buildings we were passing.  The likes of the Empire State Building and the new World Trade Centre stood proud amidst the concrete jungle of office and apartment buildings and brightly lit shop fronts that criss-cross the city.  The captain navigated the edge of Staten Island and took us under the Brooklyn Bridge before showing us a 120 foot long Pepsi Cola sign that has gained landmark status.  The red neon sign was built in 1936 in an industrial area bordering the East River in Long Island City and is a recognisable icon at the waterfront of Queens.  By the time the boat turned around to head back to Pier 83, the river water was pitch black and my fluffy toes were numb with cold.  Happy that I had seen the sun set over New Jersey and the flickering lights of the iconic Manhattan skyline, I headed into the indoor compartment to warm my cockles on John’s thick fleece and wonder how I would cope with the dizzying heights of the Rockefeller Centre which we had planned for the next day.

Shad does the International Bognor Bird Man

I never cease to be baffled and amazed by the curious antics of human beings and the ingenious ways they find to amuse themselves. I’ve watched them hurtle down an ice chute, pile on top of each other to take possession of a round thing and now this latest encounter – a crowd of people whooping and cheering as they watched other people in funny costumes leap into the air from Bognor Regis pier and fall into the choppy grey water below. John explained that this craziness was actually a competition held every summer at the seaside resort that is our home town where inventive individuals launch themselves of the end of the pier in an attempt to fly as far as they can in a human-powered custom-built flying machine. It has been a rich local tradition since 1971 and apparently is the oldest birdman rally in the world.

I watched proceedings with my head cocked and lip curled and it occurred to me that everyone there was an ordinary person who had put time and effort into creating an event that could push boundaries, entertain onlookers and strengthen community relationships. Some participants flopped unceremoniously into the sea with careless abandon, frilly knickers and yellow tropical bird suits flapping in the wind. Others achieved their goals to glide gracefully across the waves in their flying machines which was impressive considering some of these contraptions looked like a bicycle with an ironing board attached! The competition was divided into serious aviators such as this year’s winner of the Condor Class who reached 71.5m in a type of hang-glider and the inventors with home-designed machines competing in the Leonardo da Vinci Class. The most amusing participants were those in the Kingfisher Class with generally no flying ability whatsoever who demonstrated a quirky taste in fancy dress and a bucket-load of enthusiasm!

John Goes to Tenerife….

It’s that time of year again when I escape the clutches of Shad’s claws and have a short break in Tenerife.  I’m only kidding Shad, you know you’re the only one for me!  And of course I missed your 4.30am wake up calls and the way you curl your talons, I mean your tail, around my legs!

 Last time I went away I was surrounded by the snow of Innsbruck but this time I opted for scorching sunshine and high winds down at El-Médano to see the Wind and Kite Surfers.

 

El Médano is one of the world’s best windsurfing/kitesurfing locations, with three different windsurfing spots – the Bay (flat/swell), the Harbour Wall (wavespot sideshore), and Cabezo Beach (wavespot onshore). The main bay is divided into three areas, the general sailing area with very good entry and exit points, the swimming area, marked by a chain of buoys and the pigs bay.  I have no idea why it’s called that.

 

The furball will be pleased he stayed curled up at home because he doesn’t like the heat…… The temperatures hit a high of 37 deg and Shad’s fur coat goes all clumpy and wiry when he gets too hot.  Not a good look.  We won’t mention my curly black hair or as Shad would say silky grey….

 

Shad attends the Symphony

John and I decided to inject a little class into our lives with a trip to St Pauls Church in West Sussex to listen to the Chichester Symphony Orchestra play classical melodies from the likes of Bizet’s opera Carmen and the works of Russian-born composer Tchaikovsky.  Did you know that Tchaikovsky’s first known composition was a song written at the age of four.  Four!  Now that’s talent.  So the orchestra are highly regarded amateurs who only perform 3 concerts a year in Chichester and John and I were given special dispensation to attend in order to capture the scene.  In other words, it was a freebie, and with a tasty salmon snack at the interval and a soft blanket under the orange hue of a stained-glass window I was one satisfied feline!

At home my ears are often subjected to cheesy sounds from the seventies such as Metallica, Meatloaf, Deep Purple and Dire Straits or endless renditions of Starship’s ‘We Built This City’, Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ and Huey Lewis and the News ‘Stuck with You’.  This usually results in me curling up under the wardrobe with my paws in my ears or shutting myself in the biscuit cupboard in an attempt to dull the noise.  However John sometimes plays one particular CD that is guaranteed to entice me out of my hidey hole – the soothing tones of Josh Groban singing ‘Coffee on the Table’ or ‘Le Temps des Cathedrales’.  The rich melodic tones and instrumental brilliance of the Chichester Symphony Orchestra playing with the acoustics of a large 19th century church can now also go on my list of favourites.  It was an emotional roller-coaster of gloomy echoes followed by galloping tunes interspersed with thumps from the drums and blasts from the French horn that really made me jump!  I felt that the music conveyed the joys and sorrows of life with appeal and integrity.  In the end the talented performers led the music into a turbo-charged climax that left me shattered and flabbergasted at how so many instruments, a harp, a giant gong, flutes, violins, cellos, bassoons, a tuba and piccolo, can all be played at the same time in such harmony.

Shad does the Wiston Steam Fair

 

Last weekend at Wiston Park in Steyning thousands of people gathered together to celebrate the age of steam and it was wonderful to see young and old joining together to be part of a community event. The Wiston Steam Fair is volunteer-led, no big corporations, just charitable organisations and local businesses keen to commemorate the development of the commercial steam engine and show-off their steam-related contraptions. It’s a far cry from the digital world we live in now and it’s a reminder of life before automation when people lived and worked in the country, handcrafting goods in workshops and not washing their hands. Then steam power replaced wind and water power as a means to drive machinery during the industrial revolution in the late 19th century and humanity plunged down a new trajectory that would change the face of the world in many ways.

Thankfully the mid-morning sun was a pleasant 19c as opposed to the crazy 26c the south coast had endured over the previous few days, so the grass felt cool under my paws and John didn’t have to pack my frozen water bottle which I lick when I get too hot. As we wandered along the rows of exhibits, my senses were stirred by bizarre sounds and smells like the pungent whiff of hot-dogs and chips and the discordant mix of tunes from the carnival rides and the fairground organ. I stood mesmerised by the carousel going round and round with the porcelain ponies going up and down and I had to fight the urge the jump up for a ride. I thought it would be fun and I was sure an attractive black feline would get a discount on the admission price so I hopped on, picturing myself sitting debonair atop a haughty horse. Sadly the reality was quite different and the undulating flow of movement gave me motion sickness. I stepped carefully towards the edge of the merry-go-round swaying back and forth when my John appeared from nowhere and scooped me into his arms. Well that was fine, there was no time for frivolity anyway as John was keen to ditch the digital for the day and start using his old-fashioned second-hand film camera.

There were hundreds of exhibits as well as displays of more than 50 different steam machines from rollers to locomotives, lorries and traction engines. Some of them were rusty and dirty straight from the farm, while others looked pristine coated in shiny paints of burgundy or British racing green. Whatever the condition of the engine, each one was tended to with pride by people tinkering with mechanical parts or polishing brass-work and wooden panels. A little girl waved at me as she drove her miniature plough past me and the cheeky miniature train driver tooted his klaxon which made my jump. John and I caught the trailer ride up the hill and I’ve never seen so many buses in one place before. Yellow, green and red double-deckers as far as my eyes could see, along with old military vehicles, bicycles and motorcycles. We followed the vintage vehicle parade down to the next field while I scanned the spectacle for a yellow Robin Reliant van labelled Trotters Independent Traders. Although I didn’t see any faces I recognised from Only Fools and Horses, there were plenty of Del Boys around, like this guy eating an ice-cream with his rusty brown dog who was wagging his tail furiously while he licked his vanilla cone.